Farming After The Flood

Flooding events in 2011 and previous years have greatly impacted America’s prime farmland. Floodwaters left sediment and debris, eroded large parts of producers’ fields and, in many cases, left land devastated.

“Strategies to rebuild the soil, the foundation of all agricultural production, are essential to ensure that agricultural lands impacted by the floods are productive again,” said Congressman, Tom Latham (IA-4), co-chair of the Congressional Soils Caucus. “Sediment and debris removal and reconstruction of fields after erosion can be extremely costly. It is essential to have strategies and programs in place that assist producers in this regard.”

The American Society of Agronomy (ASA) and the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) sponsored a Congressional educational briefing, “Farming after the Flood”, on October 26th. The briefing focused on the impacts, mitigation approaches, and costs related to farmland flooding. The three speakers providing information on these main aspects of flooding included:

• Scott Olson, a farmer from Tekamah, Nebraska (NE), discussed the economic and environmental impacts that flooding has had on his family operated corn and soybean farm, as well as on other producers in Burt County, NE located near the Missouri River. Since May 28, Scott has documented the 2011 Missouri River Flood with over 3,000 aerial photographs. You can find photos of the flood at: www.leevalley.net.

• John Wilson, an extension educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension, discussed the common problems farmers encounter in post-flood recovery and presented a series of management options for addressing these challenges. John co-leads a team of extension staff from Iowa State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to reclaim agricultural land devastated by the 2011 Missouri River Flood. Archives of related webinar presentations are located at: http://flood.unl.edu/crops.

• James Callan, a crop insurance consultant, provided insight into the Federal crop insurance program that is available to mitigate the negative economic impacts from flooding damage and crop yield losses. James served six years in USDA, from 2003 to 2009, in the capacity of Chief of External Affairs, Associate Administrator, and Acting Administrator of the Risk Management Agency, which collectively administer the multi-billion dollar Federal crop insurance program.

During the briefing, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-1), a member of the Congressional Soils Caucus, stated, "Scott and John are acutely aware of the economic impacts of the flooding and I appreciate that they took the time to visit D.C. to share their experience with members and staff here." He continued, saying "We have spent considerable time with the communities up and down the Missouri River to serve as a conduit of information on the recovery of economic losses incurred from the flood. It seems like the local communities have been working with the State in the good spirit of cooperation that still runs strong in Nebraska."

Many agricultural fields will need to undergo a significant recovery process, including the removal of sediment from fields, if crop yields are to recover. In many cases, the soil is physically damaged; therefore gullies need to be filled and top soil replaced. ‘Flooded soil syndrome’, a condition which occurs when flooding results in fields devoid of plant roots and decreases soil microbial and fungal populations, is also a serious problem. One way to stimulate soil microbial and fungal activity is to plant cover crops. Cover crops protect the soil from erosion, improve the structure for soil, conserve below-ground moisture, and provide a habitat for soil biology. Federal conservation and insurance programs can help offset some of the costs of mitigating the impacts of flooding. As producers seek to offset their losses from the flood, support for these programs is foremost on their minds. Cooperative extension, education, and research have been fundamental for providing producers with information on how to deal with this unique and devastating situation.

SOURCE: The Soil Science Society of America

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